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Airlines, Environmentalists Clash on Emissions

Tensions between environmentalists and airlines are coming to a head over increasing efforts to regulate and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from aircraft. Meanwhile, recent studies are predicting that the air travel sector will be a significant source of GHG emissions in the future.

A coalition of three U.S.-based environmental groups, the Environmental Defense Fund, Earthjustice, and the Center for Biological Diversity, and European organizations such as WWF-UK, Transport & Environment, and the Aviation Environment Federation in Europe, have intervened in a Judicial Review brought by United, Continental and American – and their trade association, the Air Transport Association of America (ATA). The English High Court ruled recently that the Review could proceed.

The review alleges that the extension of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) to cover emissions by their aircraft traveling to and from Europe infringes international law and the EU-US open skies agreement. The environmental groups assert that the ETS has been built on solid legal foundations.

Lufthansa, meanwhile, has said it wants to delay the adoption of a carbon-trading scheme geared toward the airline industry, according to an interview with its chief executive in Die Welt. Lufthansa is claiming that expenses incurred during the recent crisis caused by the eruption of an Iceland volcano require a delay in the trading scheme.

The baseline for the trading scheme would also be based on how much airlines flew during 2010, a number which will be significantly lower due to the number of days flights were grounded as a result of the eruption.

Meanwhile, a study by the American Chemical Society’s Environmental Science & Technology Review indicates that CO2 emissions from the airline industry could double or triple by 2050 if no action is taken. Currently, aviation only accounts for approximately 2 to 3 percent of global GHG emissions, according to the study.

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4 thoughts on “Airlines, Environmentalists Clash on Emissions

  1. Like all industries, the airlines need to make the switch away from petroleum-based fuels. Laws like the EU Emissions Trading Scheme are intended to jump start this transition and will certainly be met with resistance from those who will be outside of the legal CO2 levels. In the end, the consumers will pay for credits through increased fares and if all airlines operating in the EU are subject to the same regulations, then no air carrier will be able to claim they are being unjustly targeted. As we go forward, laws like this will become increasingly common as will the lawsuits that follow.

  2. As much as I understand the constraints and challenges that airlines face, emissions control is a must, the science is undeniable and it is the responsible way to move forward.

    American carriers as well as the EU carriers are all reporting booming summer sales. Those emissions are different in that they are emitted directly into the upper atmosphere and form cloud formations immediately which keep in heat, not reflect presenting a problem for major hub regions. Airlines emissions account for 3% of total global emissions. However, how they are emitted together with the fact that it is also the fasted growing segment of emitters, it is fundamental to get a policy in order soon.

    This policy should not be just an EU policy , but an international aviation policy to avoid a confussing patchwork system. This should be the efforts of North American airlines rather than fighting an outdated accord/policy.

  3. Airlines are not scared of paying for their fair share of emissions, but any emissions trading scheme or market-based instruments must be structured in a sensible way. The reason some airlines are opposing the architecture of the European ETS is that it is a regional scheme. To be truly effective in dealing with a global industry, we need a global solution. Regional ones simply create distortions in what is a highly competitive industry. Jeremy gets this point right – we need a global solution for aviation. We are the only global sector to have a common set of targets for reducing our emissions and a pathway to get there. We are proud of this achievement, along with the many other carbon reduction efforts underway across the sector.

    Haldane Dodd
    Air Transport Action Group, Geneva

  4. Haldane, If there were a way for an airline to have an economic interest in a carbon sequestering device, would that be a plausable solution to the current rift in the Open Skies agreement?

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